Blu-ray Review: Safe (1995)

SafeDVDboxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes | CAST: Julianne Moore, Xander Berkeley, Susan Norman, Jodie Markell, Peter Friedman, Kate McGregor Stewart
RELEASE DATE: 12/9/14 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: commentary, new material with director Haynes, star Moore and producer Christine Vachon, short film
SPECS: R | 119 min. | Drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/monaural | English with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall 

 

In Todd Haynes’ (Poison , Velvet Goldmine) 1995 drama Safe, Julianne Moore (Don Jon) presents an indelible performance as Carol White, a San Fernando Valley housewife in the late 1980s who comes down with a debilitating illness that is ultimately identified as some kind of extreme environmental allergy. It’s almost as if the mild Carol’s very life—an upper middle-class existence of deodorants, salons, baby showers, designer couches and aerobics class—is determined to take her out.

safe-1995Writer/director Haynes’ second feature film is a multi-leveled work—a commentary on the go-go self-help culture of the late Reagan era, a drama about a drama that time’s class system, a not-so-veiled metaphor about the AIDS crisis (which was at its height), and a near-horror film about an evil force that cannot be seen or accurately identified. It’s an unsettling and memorable that makes its mark in its first hour before tapering off a bit in the second half when Carol sets out for cult-like health commune in New Mexico.

Criterion’s supplemental package is solid, led by an archival commentary by Maynes, Moore and producer Christine Vachon and a 1978 experimental short film by budding director Haynes.

New features include recently taped half-hour-long conversation between the filmmaker and his leading lady (who’s appeared in three of his films), both of whom are psyched to be talking about a film that proved to be a breakthrough for each of them. Moore is the more engaging of the two, particularly when she talks about audition for Haynes (the footage is included) and her approach to her character. “She’s someone who doesn’t want to take up any space at all,” she says of Carol, describing the voice she uses in her portrayal as “weightless” and being generated “at the highest point of my vocal chords.” The two also talk about how Moore wanted to see the framing of each shot before the camera rolled in an effort to aid her in playing the scene. To hear her describe it, Haynes would provide the cinematic narrative while Moore would attempt to “match it” emotionally. “I can’t tell me story until the director tells his story,” Moore offers, before concluding that “[Safe] is one of my all-time favorite experiences.”

There’s also a brief interview with producer Vachon, Hayne’s longtime associate and one of the most successful producers to emerge from the Nineties’ New Queer Cinema filmscape. She reminds us that Safe received its share of criticism from the gay community, many members of whom resented their metaphorical depiction on film

“They said that it wasn’t a positive gay image,” shrugs Vachon. “Well, what the fuck is positive?”

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.